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Aziz, Rumsfeld discuss defence cooperation

January 24, 2006

WASHINGTON, Jan 23: Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz on Monday discussed defence cooperation, security-related matters and procurement of equipment to avoid collateral damage with US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

The prime minister who is on a seven-day visit to the United States of America discussed a wide range of issues with a view to further strengthening ties in various areas of defence.

The meeting, that lasted for around an hour, 25 minutes more than the schedule, also focused on having better coordination, cooperation and communication between the respective security forces of the two countries.

They also dwelt at length on expediting the procurement of defence-related equipment and its maintenance.

Prime Minister Aziz and Defence Secretary Rumsfeld also discussed the security environment in the region, the situation along the border with Afghanistan and provision of equipment to avoid collateral damage.

In this context, they are also understood to have discussed the Bajaur incident in which 13 people were killed in Pakistan’s frontier region near Afghanistan.

The secretary defence termed the talks “important, not only for both of our countries, but also for the region”. In a brief chat with reporters, he said: “We discussed a great deal about our relationship.”

Rumsfeld avoided answering questions about the Bajaur incident. He, however, said: “We have a great many things that we do together and we have had good successes in a number of things that we have done together.”

The defence secretary said Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz was a friend, and added “we have great respect for him and President Pervez Musharraf”.

He said he was delighted to have him here at the Pentagon and said after meeting President George W. Bush the two would also talk to the press and give details of their meeting.—APP

Our Correspondent adds from Washington: Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz has indicated that Pakistan would seek US cooperation to produce nuclear energy and would broach the issue in his meetings with President George Bush and other US leaders in Washington.

Addressing the Pakistani community in Washington a day before his meeting with President Bush, Mr Aziz said that Pakistan was seeking new opportunities for producing energy and nuclear energy could also play a part in these efforts.

Mr Aziz said the issue would also be discussed among many other issues when he meets President Bush and other US leaders. During Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s July 18 visit to the White House, the US signed an agreement to provide civilian nuclear facilities to India and last week a senior US official visited New Delhi to finalize the proposed deal before President Bush’s expected visit to South Asia in early March.

Apparently, Pakistan also has launched efforts to seek a similar deal with the US and would like to see some progress by March this year.

But senior US officials have indicated that Washington could not offer a similar deal to Pakistan because of global concerns about its past record on nuclear proliferation.

Pakistan, however, argues that it’s a particular individual who indulged in nuclear proliferation and that Islamabad played a key role in exposing and eradicating this gang of international proliferators. An entire nation cannot be punished for a single person’s deeds, say Pakistani officials.

The prime minister said that he was meeting President Bush as the leader of a close US ally and was looking forward to discuss this and other issues with him.

“We will have quite a bit of time to discuss all … issues in our meeting with President Bush,” he said.

Referring to another issue that overshadowed his current US visit, Mr Aziz said the Jan 13 drone attack on a village in Bajaur Agency, was “unfortunate” and “we have condemned the incident.”

He said while he had received reports about “movement of foreigners” in that area in the past, “there’s no tangible evidence of Al Qaeda’s presence there.”